Adjournment Debate. - Drumshanbo (Leitrim) National School.

First, I should like to avail of this opportunity to wish the new Minister of State at the Department of Education, Deputy Aylward, every success in his appointment. His tenure may be short but I wish him every success. This is not only a local issue but a national issue which has grave consequences for the future of primary education in this country. I have made contact with educationalists on the policy being adopted at present by the Department of Education regarding repeat of sixth class standard in primary schools. I have been informed that when a pupil is enrolled at the start of the academic year, he or she is validly enrolled for the entire year.

Drumshanbo national school has been written to by the Department of Education and the board of management in Drumshanbo have been informed there are pupils in the school system who are not validly enrolled. I understand from the INTO that this is in breach of the agreement which the Department of Education have with the INTO. If that excuse is to be used by the Department of Education I should like to have it clarified now.

I have been reliably informed that parents have a constitutional right to send their child to any school they wish until they are 15 years of age. The policy adopted by the Department of Education is in breach of people's constitutional rights. According to information made available to me that will have serious consequences for the Department of Education. Will the Minister clarify the matter.

I have been approached by a number of schools in my constituency concerning this anomaly in the educational system, Scoil Ursula, Sligo; St. Edward's School, Sligo and Drumshanbo national school, County Leitrim.

Many pupils have repeated sixth class since the mid-seventies in Drumshanbo national school. The Department of Education have stated that the school will lose a teacher because the second sixth class is not taken into consideration. I am not raising this issue on the grounds of the reduction in the number of teachers at the school but because of the right of children, in the education system, to a decent primary education which would enable them to obtain employment in Ireland.

It is ironic that over the past number of years there have been immense job losses in Drumshanbo. If the Government are not prepared to give the young people of Drumshanbo a proper education, instead of the penny-pinching policy being adopted, the consequences for people everywhere will be disastrous. I urge the Minister to clarify the matter as quickly as possible because the Department of Education are in breach of an agreement with the INTO and going against the constitutional rights of parents. The people of Drumshanbo have had the right to take on a second sixth class, called 6B, and that should continue.

I thank Deputy Reynolds for his kind remarks and for his contribution on this matter and I am glad to have the opportunity of explaining my Department's position. My Department operate a policy of discounting from valid enrolment pupils who are repeating sixth standard, unless those pupils are repeating for exceptional reasons. This is clearly outlined in Circular 32/91 which was issued to all boards of management and principal teachers.

The staffing of a national school is determined by the valid enrolment in the school on 30 September of the previous year. This is in accordance with the agreement on staffing made between the Government and the Irish National Teachers' Organisation under theProgramme for National Recovery. In the case of Drumshanbo central national school the valid enrolment of 224 pupils on 30 September, 1991, warrants a staff of principal plus six assistants for the 1992-93 school year. The school will also have the services of a full-time remedial teacher.

My Department sought a report from the district inspector in order to determine the staffing arrangement in the school for the 1992-93 school year. The inspector's report drew attention to 12 pupils who were repeating sixth standard in the school. These pupils are being taught by the principal teacher, and follow a curriculum geared towards first year post-primary. All 12 pupils are repeating at their parents' request. Pupils repeating sixth standard at their parents' request are not considered by the Department as coming within the exceptional circumstances referred to in Circular 32/91.

The report stated that the school facilitated these requests not on the basis of need but because, in the absence of any clear guidelines in the Rules and Regulations of National Schools, there was no official reason to refuse this request, the school facilitates any request from parents for the additional year in school.

The post of seventh assistant in the school is to be discontinued with effect from 31 August 1992, as the valid enrolment figure of 224 does not warrant its retention. The 12 pupils who are repeating sixth standard in the school have been discounted from the enrolment on 30 September, 1991. The most junior assistant in the school will be given the option of redeployment to another national school in the diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise from 1 September, 1992 by means of the diocesan panel.

The status of these 12 pupils is crucial to the staffing arrangements. Their inclusion in the valid enrolment which would give a figure of 236, would result in the retention of the post of seventh assistant for the 1992-93 school year, while their exclusion brings the valid enrolment down to 224, resulting in the post being discontinued with effect from 31 August 1992.

My Department have written to the chairperson of the board of management. Very Rev. Canon T. McHale, Parish Priest, regarding the enrolment of pupils in a repeat sixth class, and drawing the attention of the board to the regulations in respect of repeat pupils. Canon McHale has been informed that these pupils were to be discounted from the valid enrolment.